Best Movies Based on Plays – Part 5

Posted on 26 Mar 00:00


The plot is unarguably the single most important part of a movie. No movie can be considered to be a good one without it having a great story line on which it is based. Some of the best stories of all time are available to us in the form of plays written by some iconic writers. These plays are timeless and will always be a good story. The movies based on these plays also make some of the best movies because of the strong plots they have. Here’s a list of some of the best movies that are based on plays. 

1.  Dial M for Murder (1954)

Based on the play:  'Dial M for Murder' written by Frederick Knott.

Plot: Tony Wendice (Ray Milland) is a retired professional Tennis Player who is planning to get his wealthy wife Margot (Grace Kelly), killed so that he can claim her property in inheritance. While he is planning to murder her, he discovers her affair with Mark Halliday (Robert Cummings). Enraged and greedy Tony devises a brilliant plan to dispense with Margot once and for all. He blackmails one of his old acquaintances into killing his wife. However, the carefully planned plan turns out to be a failure, and Margot escapes alive. Tony must outsmart the police working on the case to avoid being charged with the attempt of murder of his wife.

Director: Alfred Hitchcock.

Main Cast: Ray Milland (as Tony Wendice), Grace Kelly (as Margot Mary Wendice), and Robert Cummings (as Mark Halliday).

Awards and Nominations: Dial M for Murder film was a modest commercial success, managing a $6 million gross against the $1.4 million budget. It was also a critical success, accruing awards and nominations. The OFTA Film Hall of Fame awarded the movie the Motion Picture Award. At the 1954 New York Film Critics Circle Awards, Grace Kelly won the NYCCC Best Actress Award. The National Board of Review gave the film two awards, the Best Actress NBR Award to Grace Kelly and the Best Supporting Actor NBR Award to John Williams.

Major Difference Between the Play and the Movie: Mark's name was changed for the film; in the original play, he was Max Halliday. In the resulting movie, he is Mark Halliday.

2.  Romeo + Juliet (1996)

This is a romantic crime tragedy directed, co-written, and co-produced by Baz Luhrmann. This movie is a modernized adaption of William Shakespeare's famous tragedy play Romeo and Juliet from the 1620s. Baz Luhrmann successfully adapted this classic Shakespearean romantic tragedy for the big screen. 

Based on the play:  'Romeo and Juliet' written by William Shakespeare between 1591 and 1595.

Plot: The setting of the story is updated in this movie to a post-modern era city called Verona Beach. The movie depicts the Montagues and the Capulets as two opponent gangs. The movie has Juliet attending a costume ball thrown by her wealthy parents. Juliet is engaged to boorish Paris (Paul Rudd) by her father Fulgencio Capulet (Paul Sorvino) as a part of a strategic deal. However, Romeo is also in the attendance of the ball and happens to fall in love with Juliet at first sight setting off a series of tragic events.

Director: Buzz Luhrmann.

Main Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio (as Romeo Montague) and Claire Danes (as Juliet Capulet).

Awards and Nominations: at the 1997 Blockbuster Entertainment Awards, Leonardo DiCaprio won Favorite Actor, and Claire Danes won Favorite Actress in a Romance. At the 1997 MTV Movie Awards, Danes won Best Female Performance. DiCaprio was nominated for Best Male Performance. DiCaprio and Danes were nominated for Best Kiss and Best On-Screen Duo.

Major Difference Between the Play and the Movie: While it retains the original Shakespearean dialogue, the film represents the Montagues and the Capulets as warring mafia empires in contemporary America, where swords are replaced by guns and a FedEx-style delivery service called 'Post Haste.’ Some characters' names are also changed: Paris, Lord & Lady Montague, and Lord & Lady Capulet are given first names, although in the original play, their first names are never mentioned; Friar Laurence becomes Father Laurence, and Prince Escalus is rewritten as the police chief of Verona Beach, but renamed as Captain Prince. The movie eliminates the character of Friar John, and some characters change families. In the original play, Gregory and Sampson are Capulets, but in the film, they are Montagues; conversely, Abram, as Abra, is shifted from the Montague to the Capulet family.

3.  The Philadelphia Story (1940)

This is a romantic comedy directed by George Cukor. The story line of this movie is based on a Broadway play named 'The Philadelphia Story' written by Philip Barry in 1939. 

Based on the play:  'The Philadelphia Story' written by Phillip Barry

Plot: This classic romantic comedy film is focused on the story of Tracy Lord (Katharine Hepburn), who is a Philadelphia socialite. Tracy has recently divorced her husband C.K. Dexter Haven (Cary Grant) because of her overly demanding nature and a drinking problem. Tracy plans to marry a wealthy man George Kittredge (John Howard), but she crosses paths with her ex-husband and the reporter Macaulay Connor (James Stewart). Tracy is not sure about her own feelings about the three men and she is left with a very short window of time to decide which one of the three men she actually loves.

Main Cast: Cary Grant (as C.K. Dexter Haven), Katharine Hepburn (as Tracy Samantha Lord), James Stewart (as Macaulay "Mike" Connor), and John Howard (as George Kittredge).

Awards and Nominations: the movie received six Academy Award nominations, including Best Director, Best Actress, Best Actor, and Best Supporting Actress. Of the six nominations, James Stewart won the Best Actor Award, and Donald Ogden Stewart won the Best Screenplay Award. The Philadelphia Story movie won the Online Film & Television Association Award for Hall of Fame – Motion Picture. In 1995, the film was deemed ‘culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant by the Library of Congress and was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry.  

Major Difference Between the Play and the Movie: The original play featured another character named Sandy. However, that role was eliminated for the movie to make more room for the character development of Mike.

4.  Noises Off (1992)

This is a comedy directed by Peter Bogdanovich. The screenplay was produced by Marty Kaplan and was adapted from a 1982 play named the same written by Michael Frayn.  This film received rave reviews from critics. In his review in the New York Times, Vincent Canby noted, ‘There are a number of hefty laughs scattered throughout . . . this woozy film adaptation.’ Time Out London said this about the film, ‘undoubtedly has its moments, but will still disappoint those who laughed themselves silly at the original.’ 

Based on the play:  'Noises Off' written by Michael Frayn.

Plot: Lloyd Fellowes (Michael Caine) is a play director who is tasked to helm an Americanized take on a British play. The hardest part of Lloyd’s job is to control the eccentric actors performing in the play. The practice sessions go completely calm and quiet but trouble starts developing as they start a series o performances. As the play makes its way to a Broadway premiere, matters worsen and chaos erupts in the team. Leading actress Dotty (Carol Burnett) is doing the bare minimum, male lead Frederick (Christopher Reeve) has trouble with self-confidence and it’s incredibly hard to get bit actor Selsdon (Denholm Elliott) sober. The theatre group fumble during their performances because of petty off-stage issues and lack of professionalism, leading to hilarity.

Director: Peter Bognadovich.

Main Cast: Michael Caine (as Lloyd Fellowes), Carol Burnett (as Dotty Otley / Mrs. Clackett), and Denholm Elliott (as Selsdon Mowbray / The Burglar).

Awards and Nominations: the records revealed no awards and nominations that the Noises Off movie received. The film was not an office box, as it accrued less than $1 million in its first weekend. T

Major Difference Between the Play and the Movie: The resulting film is virtually the same as the play, with a new bit at the end and at the beginning.

5.  The Lion in Winter (1968)

This movie is adapted from a 1966 Broadway play of the same name written by James Goldman.

Based on the play:  'The Lion in Winter' written by James Goldman.

Plot: This is an American-British historical drama depicting the Christmas of 1183. It shows the political and personal trouble in the royal family of King Henry II of England, his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine, their children, and their guests. Henry II (Peter O’Toole) is preparing to name his successor to the Throne as the movie starts. However, the struggle needed to earn the crown is anything but simple. Even Henry’s Wife, Queen Eleanor (Katharine Hepburn), has contradicting notions on the subject. She wants their son Prince Richard (Anthony Hopkins) to be the king. As the family and their guests gather for Christmas celebrations, everyone tries to make the indecisive king select their suggestion.

Director: Anthony Harvey.

Main Cast: Peter O'Toole (as Henry II, King of England), Katharine Hepburn (as Eleanor of Aquitaine, his estranged Queen), Anthony Hopkins (as Richard), and Nigel Terry (as John).

Awards and Nominations: the film had three Oscar wins: Best Screenplay – Based on Material from Another Medium (James Goldman), Best Actress (Katharine Hepburn), and Best Original Score for a Motion Picture (Not a Musical) (John Barry), among other awards and nominations.

6.  The Miracle Worker (1962)

This movie was directed by Arthur Penn. The screenplay was written by William Gibson and was adapted from his play of the same title from 1959. The play was telecast in 1957 under the name Longhouse 90.

Based on the play:  'The Miracle Worker' written by William Gibson.

Plot: This is a biographical film about Anne Sullivan, Helen Keller’s blind tutor.  Helen Keller (Patty Duke) was left blind and deaf after battling with a severe fever in her infancy. The little girl is now unable to communicate which frustrates her at times, and causes her to act out violently at times. Before sending Helen to an institution, her parents (Inga Swenson, Andrew Prine) reach out to a school for the blind who sends Anne Sullivan (Anne Bancroft) to teach Helen. Annie is half-blind. Helen repels her new tutor at first but as time goes by the two develop a bond and then Anne teaches Helen how to communicate with the world. 

Director: Author Penn.

Main Cast: Anne Bancroft (as Anne Sullivan) and Patty Duke (as Helen Keller).

Awards and Nominations: Anne Bancroft won the Best Actress Oscar while Patty Duke won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar. The film received other Academy Award nominations. The British Academy Film Awards awarded Anne Bancroft the Best Foreign Actress Award. At San Sebastián International Film Festival, The Miracle Worker won a Gold Medal.       

Major Difference Between the Play and the Movie: the play and the resulting film had no major differences.

7.  Steel Magnolias (1989)

This is a comedy-drama directed by Herbert Ross. This movie is adapted from a play named 'Steel Magnolias' written by Robert Harling in 1987. 

Based on the play:  'Steel Magnolias' written by Robert Harling.

Movie Plot: This movie is focused on the story of M'Lynn (Sally Field), her daughter and bride-to-be Shelby Eatenton (Julia Roberts), her friend Truvy Jones (Dolly Parton), and an aspiring beautician Annelle Dupuy Desoto (Daryl Hannah). Truvy shows up to do the hair of the mother and daughter for the ceremony while Annelle is there to help her and the four women form a friendly relationship. Shelby is a diabetic and her condition means that there can be complications in her pregnancy. As time goes by, tragedy and good fortune create a strong and deep bond between the four women.

Director: Herbert Ross.

Main Cast: Sally Field (as M'Lynn Eatenton), Dolly Patron (as Truvy Jones), and Shirley MacLaine (Louisa "Ouiser" Boudreaux).

Awards and Nominations: Julia Roberts received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress and won the Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture. Shirley MacLaine received three nominations; the British Academy Film Award nomination for Best Actress in a Supporting Role, the Chicago Film Critics Association Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress, and the American Comedy Award nomination for Funniest Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture. She lost all these nominations. Steel Magnolias won the People's Choice Award for Favorite Dramatic Motion Picture.                    

Major Difference Between the Play and the Movie: Harling made a few changes to the film adaptation touching the scenes, sequences, and the cast. In the film adaptation, the scenes increased. The sequence was more tightly linked with major holidays than in the play, and the characters also increased beyond the original.


No movie can be a great one without having a strong plot. Some of the best movie plots have been derived from famous plays written by William Shakespeare, for example. The stories of these plays make excellent movie plots.  All these movies have a great story line, matchless direction, dialogues, and cinematography. None of these movies should be missed by any movie buff.

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